Art and reason in renaissance Italy Essay Example
Art and reason in renaissance Italy Essay Example

Art and reason in renaissance Italy Essay Example

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  • Pages: 10 (2626 words)
  • Published: November 27, 2017
  • Type: Case Study
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Between the early 14th and late 16th centuries, Renaissance Italy was a period characterized as a 'rebirth', considered to be the age of reason and enlightenment. The emergence of art as an intellectual pursuit reflects this movement.

The Italian Renaissance, a thriving period, saw the introduction of reason which inspired some of the most intellectually advanced artwork in the world. This era made monumental contributions to philosophy, mathematics, art and science, propelling Europe from the Middle Ages into modern times. According to Voltaire, it was an unparalleled age of cultural achievement in art, philosophy and politics. The artistic, philosophical and scientific rebirth is commonly attributed to the renewed availability of ancient Greek and Roman texts through library openings that facilitated the dissemination of ancient philosophy, literature and science.

During the Italian Renaissance, there was a recognition of the accomp


lishments of the Greek and Classic civilizations which fostered a desire to expand upon ancient ideas. The classical ideals were viewed as a source of stimulation, challenge and inspiration. The Renaissance went beyond a mere resurgence of antiquity and modified traditional theories to align with current standards. The introduction of reason led to unprecedented discoveries such as a shift in philosophy's methodology of thought, breakthroughs by scientists like Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton, and a resurgence in classical architecture alongside innovative art styles.

Although the Renaissance promoted individualism, scientific inquiry, and reduced the impact of religion and feudal systems from the Middle Ages, it led to Martin Luther's reformation which ultimately marked its conclusion. Reason was an essential component of these values and contributed to the emergence of art that played a pivotal role in reviving individuals' status in society

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In Italy during the Renaissance period, artists were acknowledged as "creators" who attained fame for their creations rather than being anonymous artisans.

The development of unique artistic styles was a result of the competitive environment created by the emergence of powerful independent city-states and the merchant class. Leonardo da Vinci experimented with various styles, while artists used expensive materials and ambitious projects to express wealth, and embraced new techniques, naturalism, humanism, and the Platonic idea that truth equates to wisdom equates to beauty to convey beauty. Additionally, ancient philosophies and mythological allegories were incorporated into works such as Botticelli's 'Primavera,' which still sparks debates today regarding its subject matter.

Italy's city-states of Florence, Venice, and Rome played a significant role in the Renaissance, providing economic support and a competitive atmosphere for artists. This era brought forth a new intellectual and innovative approach to art, abolishing the flat, naive church paintings of the past. However, the true essence of the Renaissance was elitist, designed for wealthy individuals based on education, stature, and wealth. Humanism promoted equality among individuals, emphasizing that one's soul was a reflection of God. Despite this philosophy, the Renaissance was not without its flaws, as corruption, warfare, and violence remained hidden behind wealth and art.

During the Renaissance, there was a strong desire to create a society that was classless and communal, free from the influence of the Church as described in Sir Thomas Moore's 'Utopia'. This included a rediscovery of the philosophies of Aristotle and Plato, which ushered in a period of enlightenment after a long period of darkness. Through Plato's teachings, the Italians were able to embrace the concept of beauty alongside wisdom and

truth, which had been rejected in the Middle Ages. The Renaissance was a rebellion against the intellectual dryness and scholasticism of the medieval ages, and it sought to embrace free thinking and intellectual expression. This newfound freedom resulted in a passion for cultural greatness and a fascination with the pagan world, which were best expressed through art by Giotto, Leonardo, and Michelangelo. The Renaissance also encouraged direct observation and study of the natural world, rather than relying solely on conceptual art as was popular in the Middle Ages.

Both classical and biblical sources influenced the iconography of the time, which drew inspiration from ancient ruins, artistic techniques, and architectural projects such as the Florentine Duomo. Plato's philosophy, on the other hand, posed a contradiction to art. This is because according to Plato, art was considered of lesser importance as it was a copy of a copy and therefore inferior to humanitas.

Despite Plato's belief, the Renaissance opposed the notion that art was unable to achieve the ideal beauty. They claimed that intelligent reflection on a subject by an artist resulted in interpreting a higher reality. Additionally, the use of art by ancient Egyptians to express their wisdom inspired Italians. Plotinus described how Egyptians created one picture for every aspect in their temples.

Plotinus believed that the Egyptian depictions of art were valuable because they provided immediate understanding, wisdom, and substance without relying on discursive reasoning and deliberation. In fact, he valued them above reason. However, Plato's ideas about art sparked a competition between artists - a paragone - to determine whether painting or sculpture was superior. Reason would suggest that sculpture is better because it is closer

to the ideal in its three-dimensional form. In response, painters began incorporating sculptures into their paintings or abstracting them in an attempt to display their intellectual superiority by including both mediums simultaneously. Titian's La Schiavona (c. ) is one example of this.

Reason has been defined differently throughout history. For instance, Decartes merged faith and reason by providing evidence of God's existence in his meditations. He stated that a person would discover God when they attain self-actualisation. On the other hand, Leibniz attributed three purposes to reason: comprehension, proof, and negation.

According to Marsilio Ficino, a notable Florence-based philosopher aligned with the Medici household, reason is an abstract concept that sits between the nether regions of our soul that connect us to the world of our bodies and senses, and the lofty regions of the mind that interact with divinity. Meanwhile, Montaigne notes that reason takes on various forms, making it difficult to know which one to grasp. Plato, who held reason in high regard, considered it the most important form of knowledge accessible to humans, exceeding sensory experience since this is mere opinion.

The Italian Renaissance promoted individual intellectual thought as a core element of 'reason'. This concept emphasizes personal interpretation as it originates from personal thinking. Reason advocates uncovering truth by questioning everything except for one's own existence, which is rooted in one's thoughts. Consequently, Reason reveals potential ambiguities in religion through scientific evidence, creating tension between faith and reason.

During the Italian Renaissance, practicality and reason were highly valued, and religion took a back seat. This allowed art to explore new iconographies without fear of being deemed sacrilegious. The inclusion of moral philosophy, rhetoric,

and poetry - collectively referred to as the 'Liberal Arts' - at the Florentine Stadium underscored the importance of reason. As Bruni explained, the liberal arts were so named because they liberated individuals and empowered them to become masters of themselves in a free world of free spirit. Ultimately, this philosophy freed Italian art from convention during the Renaissance era.

The emergence of logical thought in the realms of art and architecture is apparent from Giotto's Arena chapel frescos. This marked a significant shift from the medieval style, characterized by stiff, elongated figures and intricate, decorative lines. Rationality paved the way for innovative iconography and the evolution of perspective. Art no longer solely focused on conveying tales to the uneducated; it became an intellectual pursuit. Similarly, logical thinking influenced architecture by prioritizing the quest for the ideal form. The ancient tradition of harmony, achieved through mathematical proportion, played a crucial role in shaping building design. Brunelleschi and Alberti crafted their structures with a strict adherence to certain ratios and modes of operation, eschewing the Gothic ideals of flamboyance and ornamentation.

Brunelleschi's Capella Pazzi in Florence meticulously divides its blank white walls into structured units, conveying both classical order and intellectual rationale. This is exemplified by Brunelleschi's invention of the mathematical equation of perspective, which was necessary for depicting reality. The convergence of art and reason resulted in the birth of humanism during the high renaissance.

The appreciation of natural beauty and truth in Humanism was a significant departure from the medieval church's dismissal of beauty. However, Renaissance Humanism was not solely based on classical philosophy but instead was a fusion of Christian and Classical ideals. Alberti

was an embodiment of this alliance as he excelled both as a philosopher, artist, architect, and mathematician. This unification of art and intellect was feasible because of the concept of reason which accessible to people of all social classes. His humanistic belief was a personal amalgamation of Christianity and the wisdom of the ancients alongside rational thinking that epitomizes the essence of reason. Alberti derived his perception of beauty from Plato's classical theories embracing the concept that truth equals wisdom which equals beauty. Additionally, he acknowledged that beauty has objective actuality, unlike subjective opinions.

Alberti's approach to art was characterized by practicality and logic, as he prioritized reason, method, imitation, and measurement over speculative theories. Unfortunately, his ideas were not popular in 15th century Italy when mystical interpretations of antiquity became more prevalent. Nevertheless, Botticelli's Primavera demonstrated that art could effectively convey intellectual concepts even during this time period. Thus, art can be used to express sophisticated ideas with intellectual depth.

The Renaissance thinkers believed that art could be personally interpreted through the questioning of one's own thoughts. Reason was the dominant theme that united all philosophies, as it allowed for the amalgamation of ancient philosophical traditions and the search for a common ground for truth, beauty and wisdom. Gombrich stated that higher knowledge was represented by seeing, due to its speed and immediacy. Neo-Platonism was a product of Plotinus' Enneads work, which combined the philosophical theorizing of Genesis creation and Plato's Timaeus cosmology.

Artistic expressions of Neo-Platonic beliefs were often seen through allegorical and symbolic representations, particularly in pre-Christian mythologies. In these works, the philosophy of Neo-Platonism was transformed into concepts of beauty, wisdom, and truth.

Botticelli, famous for his intricate mythological depictions, gradually incorporated more complex themes and ideas that could be interpreted as allegories for Christianity. Marsilio Ficino, a prominent Neo-Platonist at the Medici court in Florence, played a significant role in shaping Botticelli's iconography. His influence can be seen, for example, in Botticelli's Venus and Mars (c. ).

The statement within

tags suggests that Ficino's interpretation of Plato's writing implies that Mars' strength lies in making men stronger, while Venus is able to control him because he cannot overpower her. The number 485 seems unconnected and irrelevant.

'7 A painting by Botticelli portrays Mars, almost naked and in a coma, while satyrs play with his armor and Venus watches over him. The painting can be seen as a celebration of love triumphing over war, without the obvious mythological meaning. Botticelli's Primavera is also about love, but its symbolism is debated due to its potential intellectual complexity. All eight figures in the painting represent characters from Classical mythology, including the Three Graces and Venus. Zephyr, Chloris, and Flora on the right side symbolize the arrival of spring and the beauty of nature. The Three Graces on the left represent the refined pleasures of life, while Mercury embodies reason.

The integration of Natural and Spiritual ideologies is embodied in Venus' prominent position in this piece. It effectively represents the Neo-Platonist belief that the Human Ideal is achieved by combining Nature and Grace. The role of Reason within art is illustrated here as Leonardo, who epitomized the 'artist as a scientist', prioritized creating realistic, individual, and lively figures over conforming to a rigid standard of beauty. Raphael offers a more formal

approach, embodying the 'artist as a scholar' archetype and presenting Neo-Platonist art in a less sentimental manner. His work in the Vatican's Stanza della Segnatura showcases the fusion of Classical and Christian cultures along with the pagan philosophy of the Renaissance. This is depicted through frescos portraying The School of Athens, Poetry, Theology, and Justice.

Jean Seznec noted that the ensemble elements are well-organized and evident. This realm is filled with images where two worlds encounter each other...

What we hear is not the sound of two opposing armies, but rather the beautiful harmony of a choir. The School of Athens, created in 1510, represents the concept of reason. This masterpiece serves as a testament to classical philosophy, with Plato pointing toward heaven to indicate universal ideals and Aristotle symbolizing the practical view of the earth.

The combination of Classical and Renaissance cultures is demonstrated in the monumental drawing which includes contemporary portraits of Leonardo and Michelangelo alongside depictions of ancient philosophers, summarizing the Renaissance period. However, the union was short-lived as a darker period descended upon Europe towards the late sixteenth century. This transition can be seen over the thirty years (1508-41) it took Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. It was inevitable that such a splendid era would come to an end, and this was marked by the Reformation which signalled the conclusion of the Italian Renaissance.

In 1508, Michelangelo embodied the ideals of the Renaissance and demonstrated the blending of art and reason. He fully embraced Neo-Platonism as a way to justify his own existence. Michelangelo's representation of Adam and Eve showcases the splendor of the physical world. He also expressed this concept

in his poetry, acknowledging the divine origin of beauty. However, his beliefs about the beauty of the world later underwent a significant shift.

Michelangelo's completion of the fresco of the Last Judgement in the Sistine chapel reflects his belief in the solemn goodness of reducing all excesses and abolishing concepts of beauty. This can be seen in the lack of grace and beauty in his figures, which instead embody violent motion and struggle. Michelangelo's shift in philosophy represents the end of the Renaissance.

Michelangelo's sonnets demonstrate a shift in beauty's significance. Rather than being an end in itself, beauty became a result of the Renaissance's extravagances. Michelangelo observed that the belief that art was his god and love of earthly pleasures was misguided. He concluded that inner peace cannot be attained through artistic tools like brushes or chisels.

During the 14th century, the renaissance began with the influence of Classical art, but ended with the burning of all indulgences and vanities under Savonarola, causing a return to strict Christianity. Despite reason's continued influence over society, its relationship with art was diminished, ultimately leading to the decline of the renaissance. Ficino even blamed reason for causing distress and unrest in humanity.

Art flourished during the restlessness and torment of the Renaissance era, which was sparked by the unexpected fusion of ancient philosophies and Christian beliefs. Individualism was a key factor in this cultural rebirth, as it allowed for the emergence of 'universal men' with expertise in fields ranging from politics to philosophy. This emphasis on individual expression led to artwork that conveyed personal emotions, as seen in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel frescos. As Leonardo famously declared, 'every painter paints himself'.


rationalism led to the idea of a world beyond God, which enabled freedom of iconography. The status of renaissance artists is evident in Vasari's book, 'The Lives of Artists.' Reason is reflected in the shift from storytelling to the study and depiction of nature, anatomy, and expression through art. Renaissance developments such as perspective, oils, realism, and humanism are all attributed to reason. Applying lessons from science and math to art allowed Leonardo and Brunelleschi to exceed the ancients. The use of reason propelled Italian renaissance art forward after a long period of darkness, resulting in some of the most monumental works known to man.

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